The New York Rangers face high expectations after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the past four seasons and advancing to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, where they fell to the Kings in five games. With the league so tight and New Yorkers hungry for their first Stanley Cup since 1994, the heat is on.
But as Brian Leetch will tell you, it isn't quite the same as 1994.
"It was definitely a difference because of the 54 years that we were dealing with each year," Leetch says. "You have the Islanders fans chanting '1940!' and you have such a mix of people that worked together that were Islanders fans, Devils fans, Rangers fans. You have this Original Six team that had been passing down traditions from their grandparents to their parents to their grandparents, and everyone was just hoping for one victory, and the Islanders were an expansion team and got these great players and won these four cups."
Leetch, who won the 1994 Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, is still mauled on the streets by fans.
"I get a lot of 'thank yous' for '94 and 'what do you think about this year's team?'" says Leetch, who stays close to the game as a part-time TV commentator with the Rangers and a USA Hockey ambassador for Liberty Mutual. "Those are pretty easy for me. I just say thanks and talk about Henrik."
Henrik Lundqvist has been the backbone of the Rangers' recent success, and Leetch ranks the Swedish goaltender ahead of himself among all-time Rangers greats.
"As long as Henrik [Lundqvist] is healthy, I always say he has been 1A and 1B, him and Mark Messier the last 30 years to come to New York," says Leetch, the franchise leader in assists. "I think they've each had that big an impact as their respective teams. As long as he stays healthy, they've got a chance to win the whole thing."
Leetch served as Rangers' captain from 1997-2000 during Messier's Vancouver Canucks hiatus. Now another straight-laced blueliner, Ryan McDonagh, dons the 'C.'
"He was going to be the focal point of ice time," Leetch says of the Rangers' decision to appoint McDonagh captain last year. "When you have that responsibility of logging the most ice time, being out there in key situations, players naturally look to you anyway. Your responsibilities remain the same in that regard, but your off-ice demeanor and the way you carry yourself becomes more of a focus."
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.